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Austin nurse grateful for job as some in other cities don't fare as well

The Texas Nurses Association said furloughs and layoffs are happening in Dallas and Houston as a result of canceled surgeries.

AUSTIN, Texas — Hospitals across Texas are preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients in the next couple of weeks.

That includes Gov. Greg Abbott canceling elective surgeries to help clear bed capacity. 

But the Director of Practice for the Texas Nurses Association Serena Bumpus said that move decreased the volume of outpatient surgeries.

"Anywhere from 40% to 50% – we've done that intentionally to increase bed capacity, so that has a huge financial impact on the health care system as a whole," she said. "Our ambulatory surgical centers, which primarily do outpatient surgeries, are where we see a lot of the furloughs and layoffs taking place because they're not doing surgeries, which is their primary source of income."

Bumpus said those furloughs and layoffs are happening in Dallas and Houston, not Austin.

And for nurses caring for COVID-19 patients, Bumpus said the emotional toll is draining.

"It's devastating to take care of patients who we can't allow family members in, where nurses are their family and their caregivers at the same time," Bumpus said.

Michele Brunke is a nurse at St. David's Medical Center in Central Austin.

"I do have anxiety but I also feel ready – this is something that is my calling in life. I know a lot of my nurse colleagues feel the same way," she said.

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While she has concerns about what's coming in the next couple of weeks, she doesn't have to worry about her job, like her colleagues in Dallas and Houston. That's because St. David's started a Pandemic Pay Program, basically offering employees 100% of their rate when they work and 70% when they don't.

"They have relieved a lot of concern and anxiety not only with myself but with all of my colleagues," Brunke said. 

St. David's has also worked to retrain its nurses.

"I went down to the emergency department and I was a screener one day when I couldn't be on my floor, so I was still working," said Brunke.

Now Brunke can focus on helping her patients recover and her colleagues fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

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